The Path not Taken: Why Your Career Does Not Have to Follow a Linear Narrative

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Many people, once they graduate from college, have a rough idea of what kind of career they want to follow. This is true especially if you are in a professional track. That is, if you went to law school, you’ll more than likely begin a career as a lawyer. Same goes for medical school, and to a certain extent, studying engineering. Your career path is, with some room for diversions of course, more or less laid out for you. But if you fall in the majority of people who graduated with degrees in economics, English, business, psychology, political science, etc., you have no clear-cut career path. Some, however, see themselves being an X (X being a journalist, a corporate manager, whatever), and they believe that these positions follow a certain career trajectory.

What gets sacrificed, however, when we think of our careers as linear narratives, is that we lose that sense of possibility, that we can do and become whatever we want. Of course, we can’t literally do whatever we want, but there’s a lot more breathing room for divergent paths in career planning than you’d think. Just because you decided you wanted to be in marketing when you were fresh out of school with your first job, and now you’ve decided it’s not for you, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in marketing forever, or even that you have to do something related.

What matters most is that you know how to communicate your job experience to fit every new role for which you sit down and interview. Highlighting transferable skills, like communication and computer skills, is very important. Also important is being honest and upfront. You can say, “Hey, I might not fit your job description exactly, but I have a number of job experiences under my belt that can help your company by bringing a fresh perspective.

So if you feel stuck in your career path, know that, while it may be harder to break into a new industry or niche at first, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. Don’t be afraid to take risks and apply for a job that catches your interest, even if it’s something for which you are not remotely qualified. For example, check out this recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The writer explained how breaking into a new career field can be systematically approached by leveraging what you do best, offering to do it for a small company in the new niche you are seeking for a small fee, in exchange for picking up new skills for the industry you hope to break into.

We live, after all, in an entirely different economy than the one are parents lived in. This mass restructuring of the way people do business means, for one, we don’t have the job security we may have had in the past. It also means, however, that we are free to explore a vast array of job options so we can find the thing that truly excites us. Taking divergent career paths, even if it means that our resumes don’t follow a linear narrative, is now completely viable. All it takes to successfully explore different jobs is a little bit of creativity and some calculated risk.

Tara Miller:

This guest post is contributed by Tara Miller, who writes on the topics of psychology degree.  She welcomes your comments at her email: [email protected]

  • It’s a nice thought, but the reality is that most job discriptions today ask for specific education and 3 to 5 years experience. And most employers/recruiters will X bin your resume if you do not have those specifics.

    • While true, usually people have enough job skills that are close to the requirements (I call them “adjacent” skills) to get a good look. It depends on the employer. Besides, the number of different jobs people have now a days lends itself to picking up a variety of job skills. I started my career in retail as a buyer. Then I went to telecommunications. Then I went to banking and technology. Then consulting. It’s not a straight path.

    • That can happen, no doubt. But what if you showed a lot of adjacent skills where you are close to what is needed, but in a different area?

      If you can get past the resume gate by showing you have close job skills and can produce business results, you can work with the hiring manager to show you have skills similar to what is needed on this particular job.

      Worth a shot.

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